Interview with a Rwandan Refugee- Part 1

Left to Right: Emile, Jolie, Cindy, Eugene, Freddy, Me (Katie), Jacqueline

Left to Right: Emile, Jolie, Cindy, Eugene, Freddy, Me (Katie), Jacqueline

This is one of our favorite refugee families.  The family consists of Mama Eugene, Jolie, Emile (19), Innocent, Kamariza, Jacqueline (11, not pictured), and Freddy (7, not pictured).  The family is originally from Sudan, but spent the last 20 years in a refugee camp in Rwanda.  They youngest three children were born in the camp and had never left it until coming to Las Vegas in September.  Innocent and Kamariza moved to Kentucky back in January because a fellow tribesman from the refugee camp was living there and told them they could find work.  They only recently found work there in March.  Emile was able to get a job here at McDonald’s a few weeks ago.  However, he was only given 20 hours a week at about $9 an hour, and as you can imagine, this was not enough to support his family of 5.  So two weeks ago Emile told us that they would be moving to Kentucky on April 1st to be with Innocent and Kamariza.  He said that it will be easier for them to live with the income of 3 people instead of 1.  It was very sad for us to hear that they were leaving, but we understood the reasoning and are happy that the family will be together again.

Before they left, I took Emile out to dinner. He wanted to go to a place that had cheeseburgers.  He said he tried cheeseburgers at McDonald’s and knows he likes them, but if we go somewhere else he might not like the food and then he would “not be able to swallow it”.  So I took him to In-N-Out since the cheeseburgers are better there.  I ordered him a cheeseburger, fries, and a strawberry shake.  He had tried fries before, but he had never had a shake.  He was really worried that he wouldn’t like the shake.  I asked him if he likes strawberries and he said “yes”.  So I said, “this is just strawberries mixed with milk and ice cream”.  “But the strawberries I have tried are red.  This is pink”, he said.  I explained that the juice changes color when it is mixed with the milk and ice cream.   It’s funny how many things you never expect to have to explain to someone, but when a person spends their entire life in a refugee camp, having very limited life experiences, it comes with the territory. Anyway, Emile did end up liking the shake and the cheeseburger.  He thought I was crazy when he saw me dip french fries in ketchup, but after trying that as well, he understood why.

While we were eating I thought I would take the time to ask him a few questions about his experience in the refugee camp.  This is how that conversation went:

**I have modified his answers to be more readable since he is still learning English.

Me: What did you eat in the camp?

Emile: Every month the World Food Organization would come and give us food for the month.  My family [of 8 people] got 25kg (about 55lbs) of beans, 50kg (110lbs) of corn, one bottle of cooking oil, and salt.   

Bags of corn and beans at the Kiziba Refugee Camp

Bags of corn and beans at the Kiziba Refugee Camp

M: That’s it?!

E: That’s it.  That is for the whole month.

M: What about meat?

E: You can forget about meat. No meat. 

M: Fruit?!

E: No fruit.  Fruit is too expensive.

M: So that’s all you ever ate?  Did you trade any of that to get other food?

E: We only ate half of that.  We sold the other half to pay for my school and school uniforms.  The school said we would learn better if we had uniforms, so we had to sell our food to buy those.

Sometimes we would trade some food for Taro and [something like a Potato].

Refugee boy in school uniform pushing firewood "bike"

Refugee boy in school uniform pushing firewood "bike"

M: So that’s all you ever ate? Corn, beans, taro and potatoes?

E: One time some kids from school gave me some fruit.  So I went home and gave it to Freddy.  Freddy told me, “Emile thank you so much!”  He was very grateful.


You can read the rest of this conversation (including what the camp looked like, what they did all day, what dangers and trials they faced, etc.)  tomorrow in our next blog post.

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